the past couple of weeks we've been considering the reality of legalism in our journey through paul's letter to the colossians. i want to give you a final thought...
what's the difference between legalism and obedience? clearly, God cares about how we act. there are many commands in the bible that appear to be explicit, understandable, and undebateable. there is no question that our behavior is a measuring stick of the quality and breadth of our faith. so what is legalism? let me offer my two cents.
first of all, legalism is action or behavior that seeks to win God's approval or attempts to establish a list of rules or expectations that a person must adhere to, in order to have a right relationship with God or to be fully accepted into a christian circle.
here's the rub..a legalist would never admit to being a legalist. he just sees himself as "better" than others because of his (or her) choice to do, or not do, certain things. we tend to judge others by our own standards of what is acceptable and what isn’t. the other day, i read this quote and it has kind of captivated me..."in essence, we think our sins smell better than other people’s. it seems like we have very little tolerance for people who sin differently than we do!"
legalism can take a faith that is alive and make it dull and lifeless. it can shrink our vision to the size of a communion pellet, bring enthusiasm to a screeching halt, steal joy, reduce our spirituality to a shallow pool, and generally suck the life out of anybody or any group. instead of finding freedom through Christ, many believers become drained by the church and ultimately walk away…tired of rules and judgment and alienation.
legalism makes us petty and judgmental. the legalist insists that everyone live up to the standard they have adopted. they see themselves as spiritually superior and the benchmark others should aspire to be. in other words, we want others to just "be like Mike". when we think this way, we miss the incredible fun of living life in the midst of a bunch of different people. it's not always easy, but it's certainly the way God designed it!
i guess what it comes down to is legalism makes it impossible for people to see Jesus. i don't think there is anything that pushes a person away from Jesus faster than a list of rules and regulations. maybe it's time we stop making lists and rules and carrying around our private bag of expectations. maybe we can lay down our judgment and criticism and spiritual smugness and just get about the business of loving people and serving those around us in humble obedience.